Researchers in the US have linked optimism and prolonged lifespan after an extensive study of tens of thousands of people.
People who believe good things will happen in the future are more likely to enjoy “exceptional longevity”, meaning they could reach 85 years and above.
Although research has already identified risk factors associated with disease and premature death, much less is known about positive factors that may affect ageing.
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analysed 69,744 women and 1,429 men, studying the women for 10 years and the men for 30 years.
As well as lifestyle factors like diet, smoking and alcohol use, men and women were assessed on their level of optimism at the beginning of the study.
Researchers found the most optimistic people in the group had “11 to 15% longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups”.
They said the results were maintained when accounting for other factors, including demographic factors like education or disease.
Lewina Lee, PhD, clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston and assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM, and a paper author, said: “While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging.
“This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan. Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.”
However, researchers are not clear why more optimistic people are likely to live longer.
Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences, another author of the paper, added: “Other research suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively.”
Researchers also said those who were more optimistic were likely to have healthier habits, such as taking part in exercise, and less likely to smoke, which may contribute.